There’s A Brand Waiting For You In Your Office.

A new Accenture survey of global marketers yielded some results that at first, may not seem that extraordinary. Among them, marketers said the three most important business issues were improving customer retention and loyalty, acquiring new sales and increasing sales to current customers. The survey went on to say that in the coming year, marketes expect to see their marketing budgets flatline or decline.

OK, that’s probably not a shock to hear. But CMOs also expect to see company sales grow in the coming year. Is this a mixed message? Not necessarily. The translation I see is that in order to move forward, marketers will be expected to do more with less. This is not necessarily as bad as it might seem. How?

Think about the most precious internal resource you have to be developed and most of us will arrive at an answer made of flesh and bone, not machine.

Yes, we have to get routinely smarter about what our customers want and using analytics will help with that. But we also have to get smarter about what our employees want – and that’s the side of the equation that I believe gets missed all too often.

If you have ever worked in an environment where employees are an afterthought, you know this. It’s seen in “meet these deliverables or else” career plans that managers don’t like doing and employees dread. It’s career planning as punishment rather than collaboration. Mass layoffs and severance offers are the routine answer to cost cutting rather than brainstorming on what we can do better to show more value or entice greater referrals. Employees see themselves as being there just to do a job – nothing more, nothing less.

The question we must ask is this: We work so hard to brand ourselves to the outside world but how often do we brand ourselves to our own people? What do they genuinely feel about us and can we be honest with ourselves to hear it? You can’t fake enthusiasm for your own workplace. It’s readily apparent and genuine or you’ll see forced smiles and sarcasm if not outright complaints.

Where does the enthusiasm come from? For one thing, a company that treats its people as investments rather than role fillers. Managers who are passionate about understanding what makes their people tick personally, not just professionally. What do they like to do in their spare time? How can you reward them with more of that thing they love? It’s time to look beyond the annual reviews and raises but instead think about your people’s lives on a regular basis.

This isn’t just touchy feely stuff. In fact, here’s how it can benefit your brand.

Just picture how that enthusiasm can positively affect customer retention and loyalty. Let’s say your customer calls up with a technical question and he’s not happy. Your patient employee takes the time to carefully walk the customer through the question like anyone else, but in the course of helping that person, also learns the person is a New York Jets fan. The person is sent a handwritten thank you card for calling with a Jets hat, wishing his team best of luck on the upcoming season.

Who’s going to forget that? Who’s not going to tell someone else about that? I think you get where I’m going with this. An investment in training that employee might just have led to a better customer service experience and in the larger picture, a tremendous feeling about the brand. Or perhaps they felt such an investment and support from the company for their own personal/professional goals that such a positive desired result came naturally – they’re not just doing their job. They’ve bought into a mantra. A mission. A purpose.

Think about your top 5 competitors. Are their technological differences between you all that different? I’ll wager the answer is no. You’ll invest in technology and so will they.

The true difference is your workforce. Your people with their various talents and skills are the differentiators. They are the people on the front lines who often have to deal with customers face-to-face. And even if they don’t, shouldn’t we treat them as the walking, talking representations of the overall brand they are anyway? After all, they do leave the office and associate with others, you know.

“Yes, but what happens when they leave the company? Won’t our differentiator leave with them?” I expect to hear this a bit. It’s natural for people to come and go. The question is how much and how often they’re leaving. Obviously if half the company walks out the door within a year, you need to take a hard look at your own management practices and communication style.

When it’s hard for them to move on to a new opportunity because the culture is so terrific and tears are shed on all sides, something that is special is happening – really. Because it’s a family-like atmosphere at that point.

Is it possible that we could do more with less by looking inward to the brand in front of our faces that we haven’t developed? And in doing so, could we find our outside sales and customer loyalty rising as a result of our internal investment?

One thing’s for certain. It’s a heck of a great place to start.

 

What types of initiatives is your company using to build the internal brand? Is it helping result in a better customer service experience, happier employees, etc.? Share if you’re comfortable doing so.

What happens when your leader IS your brand?

Most of us have bosses. Some of us have great CEOs. And a very precious few of us have what can only be referred to as a legend – the kind of iconic visionary who is responsible for making the brand what it is today in the eyes of many.

Of course, nobody is immortal. Time ensures we all move on, whether it is due to a new job, retirement or (not to be morbid), expiring. The challenge Apple faces today in the wake of Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO (but he is staying on as Chairman) is no different than what Chrysler had to face in the post-Iacocca era, Ogilvy had to face without David Ogilvy, Disney without Walt or what Virgin will face when Richard Branson steps away someday. These are imaginative, charismatic, exciting people who not only shaped the foundation of their companies but have had influence far beyond it for managers in all kinds of industries. They are not just people associated with the brand. They ARE the brand.

What do you tell the world when they aren’t around on a daily basis anymore? Do you regret having linked to one person so strongly? Do you pretend it’s business as usual and no big deal?

It’s not a catastrophe as long as you remember a few key fundamentals before, during and after that transition for the good of your brand.

1. You don’t replace genius.
The world knows that. You’re not fooling anyone when you pretend that the person no longer involved in your company is no big deal. “Oh, yeah, he left but we’re humming along.” Give me a break. It’s about saying, “You don’t replace someone like him. He was remarkable. Fortunately, we’re a better positioned company today because of everything he’s done.” You don’t have to say you’re devastated and don’t know how you’re going to go on either. Which leads us to #2.

2. Show what the legacy has brought to your business and culture.
The Chicago Bulls couldn’t replace Michael Jordan. Hockey itself couldn’t replace Wayne Gretzky. But as a testament to their influence, they had disciples and students of their genius and skill. Steve Jobs has had the same and I’m sure Apple will take great steps to show how Jobs’ principles are alive and well even as he pulls back from responsibilities at the company. For example, Jobs was a master of stripping away technical elements that the consumer didn’t necessarily need – I doubt that Apple will suddenly become a company of unwieldy designed products now. They’ll keep this legacy strong if they can continue to show how they produce not just great products but magical feelings that make people salivate over what’s next. Great leaders have great influence and great respect long after they’re gone – how often do we hear architects and city planners in Chicago invoke the name of early 1900’s architect Daniel Burnham in an effort to stay true to his vision of the city today?

But again you ask, “isn’t Steve Jobs the primary person who triggers the emotion behind Apple with every introduction?” Yes. But that leads us to point #3.

3. Terrific leaders don’t leave the skill set cupboard bare when they leave.
If you believe Steve Jobs is a great leader – which I do – you know that he has been preparing his internal team for a moment when he was going to step away for some time now. And if you have ever studied the succession plans of companies that tend to do well in transition, fortune tends to favor those who select leaders from within who have understood the culture for quite some time – not a hard and fast rule, but a trend. In that context, can you imagine anyone better prepared to take on this responsibility than Tim Cook, a man who has been at Apple for over a decade and has already had to step in for Jobs once before? What about the talented people who have an eye not just for technological greatness but artistic beauty in what they create for Apple? Steve Jobs is a great thinker but to say he was the one and only visionary behind the iPad, iPhone or iCloud is doing his team a disservice.

4. Perception is reality. Think about experiences and emotions, not just dollars and cents.
You can talk about dollars, cents and profitability until the cows come home. But there’s an immeasurable quality of captivating customers like the past leader did that should be your goal just as much as earning revenue. People who take their eye off that function of branding and try to say that the company is in an even better place are fooling themselves. And I’m not just speaking externally – what’s the chemistry of your culture post-iconic leader? Is it just as fun of a place to be? If you used to be a magical place to work and have become just a profitable place to work, something is lost. Sure, technology must evolve and ways of doing business must evolve. But the spirit and vision that is the company’s reason for being must be just as inspiring to its people from one leader to the next. If you don’t have that, the promise of what your brand is all about rings a bit more hollow. I don’t think Mr. Cook will make the mistake at the next big Apple event of presenting just about profit and loss instead of trying to excite people for what’s next. I sure hope not.

5. With consistency and focus, you ensure the iconic leader leaves his mark on the brand forever.
None of us may live forever, but the more our successors can use our principles as a guiding force for why they do what they do, the more they honor us. More importantly, they keep the brand strong. If those principles fade because some new CEO from the outside wants to put his own stamp on things and forget all the good things done in the past, well, chances are the company probably loses its shine as well.

Most of us may never know what it’s like to work for a person so iconic that they become synonymous with the brand. But their leaving isn’t the tragedy – forgetting how they made the company great in the first place is.

Can you think of instances of where greatness transpired from one leader to the next? What about stumbles that could have been avoided? Of course, if you have a bold prediction for Apple’s future in the wake of Steve Jobs stepping back, I’d love to hear that too.

What the cabbie and Southwest Airlines taught me about agency efficiency

Today’s post skews a bit toward agency management but team productivity is good for all types of managers to think about.

The other day I was taking a cab from the north side of Chicago to downtown. Usually, there are several different ways you can go to get to your destination. And every time, the cabbie asks, “Which way would you like me to go?” For the passenger, it’s like a game of chance. Why should I have to decide this? Shouldn’t he know which way is fastest? Yet, even when I say, “whichever way you think is quickest,” I invariably can’t help but feel I’ve been taken for a ride in a bad way.

But this time, the cabbie did something that surprised me. He took me down a route that nobody else had where he didn’t even have to ask me which way I wanted to go – he just took me. And the way he took was absolutely the fastest and cheapest fare I had ever paid. Amazed, I said, “Why thank you. I’ve never gone this way and to be honest, it’s the lowest amount of money I’ve ever had to pay.”

He replied, “I know. What most cabs don’t get is that the faster I get you there, the faster I get to the next fare. They try to draw out fares by going the long way and taking more time but it never works out in their favor like my way.

Sometimes agencies act like those other cabs my newfound friend was referring to – they draw out each assignment over more time rather than less for the purpose of giving themselves a nice steady feed of work. Hey, we all want steady work in times like these. But if we try to draw out each project as much as possible, we’re only hurting ourselves. If we do a great job and get paid sooner, we’ll come out ahead by either that client giving us additional work or hopefully that client referring us to another potential client.

Note that I’m not advocating speed. I’m advocating efficiency. Agencies routinely confuse the two. If we know a project should be done in a certain amount of time, we shouldn’t milk it for all it’s worth for so much extra time than we need to. It becomes almost an issue of ethics and honesty at that point. So let’s look at this from the positive angle – if we say it will be done in 3 months but actually get it done in 2, we’re opening ourselves to begin new projects with that same client vs. sitting around and collecting money on work that’s already been done.

Southwest Airlines does an excellent job of managing time and expectations. Over the last several years, I have made dozens of trips on Southwest to different parts of the country. Almost every time, a person comes on and says, “I’m sorry Ladies and Gentlemen, but we’ll be taking off a few minutes later than we’d like.” Lo and behold, by the end of the trip, they not only make up the time but actually get there several minutes early. Every. Single. Time. As if they planned to do that all along. Which they probably did.

What will you do with the extra time? Be proactive (a common complaint people tend to have about agencies) and do some brainstorming on additional ways you can help the client’s business without them asking you to. Then you can potentially upsell your client on that work or at the very least, demonstrate how you think outside of what’s requested. Don’t tell me you won’t do this until you get paid for it. That relegates you to “order taker” status and makes you less of a proactive thinker.

Or let’s turn the focus inward. Fill the time with additional new business efforts. Use it to work on your own agency’s self-promotion, which is never, EVER considered slacking off.

Remember, it’s not about speed. If you’re feeling like your team has no margin for error as you’re churning and burning, that’s not efficiency. That’s about speed and turning your agency into a factory. I don’t think there’s much value in being the speed demon of agencies. But there is tremendous value in being the agency of doing things smarter to achieve financial goals faster – even if it’s a matter of hours. I’m talking about understanding what you absolutely need to deliver the kind of product you and the client can be happy with in the most sensible amount of time.

For example, I once told a client that we’d have the ads done to her by “end of day.” But her end of day was different from my end of day. Her end of day was around 3:00pm because she had family obligations at home. To make her happy and meet our goals, we needed to adjust by about four hours to buffer in time for her to review the work and make any possible revisions. She didn’t need to sit with it forever. By getting that work done and wrapped well before 3:00pm, it allowed our managers to think about new business tactics, our designers to check out inspirational websites, even for us to take a break for darts. So you never know the positives that can impact not only your client relations but internal relations.

Point being that if you act like that cabbie who surprised me and choose the route of efficiency over milking each project, you may get your client faster to where they want to go and get yourself onto the next project that much faster. If you’re worried about how you’re going to fill the space with work, that’s a new business issue you needed to address a long time ago anyway. In that event, maybe you ought to give someone like Steve Congdon at Thunderclap a call. If it’s an operational flow issue, that would be Rob Jager at HedgeHog Consulting.

What other excuses do you have for not getting to your best ideas more efficiently?

10 Keys To Maintaining Your Brand’s Soul

The idea of greater sales sounds, well, great. But when you think about expansion, have you considered what the consequences of what the move is going to be on your brand, your culture, your people? Many companies don’t. There’s no reason why sales should be on the opposite side of these considerations, especially when it doesn’t have to be.

With this in mind, I created a checklist that can help you decide if a company sale, increase in hiring, large investment in equipment, new distribution channels and ramping up of production will come at the expense of your brand.

10 Keys To Maintaining Your Brand’s Soul

  1. Does a move in the name of greater sales feel at odds with our brand and what we believe?
  2. What does our mission statement look like? Is it iron-clad with character and personality with little room for interpretation by future generations on what we stand for or is it like most mission statements – an ambiguous note of blandness that anyone could own?
  3. Will a move in the name of greater sales anger, irritate or even mildly annoy our most loyal customers (in other words, are we biting the hands that fed us)?
  4. Is our location (physical location, branches, 800 number, website, blog) a “mecca” that people enjoy coming to over and over again, whether they are our customers or our employees or both?
  5. Will a move in the name of greater production risk compromising our quality, customer service and reputation?
  6.  Do we refer to the “good old days” of this company or do we refer to how great it is now?
  7.  Does a technological upgrade feel easier and more efficient but less warm, friendly and true to who we are in terms of a human approach?
  8. Will we still be an organization that likes to have fun?
  9. Will our success be measured primarily in sales volume or will we hold up shining examples to the public of  goodwill we’ve gained?
  10.  What about us will never, ever change no matter how much money someone waves in our face?
Let’s see what we can add to these 10, shall we?

12 service questions that might be worth $400 million to answer.

The relationship and chemistry side of our business is routinely undervalued for its role in how companies make decisions to stay with an agency. Here’s the truth: Yes, companies choose agencies and stay with them because they produce results. But also because…they like them.

Oh, but nobody could ever say that. Everyone has to appear emotionally impartial and objective. Anything otherwise wouldn’t be proper.

Of course we know that’s not true. When a winning agency presents, it’s hard if not impossible to show emotion on the client side. A curl of a smile. A chuckle. A gasp or even a tear. This is what we’re going for. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Because we know if we elicit that response in you, we have an excellent chance of winning that business because it shows a rapport with you, the immediate audience at hand and ultimately, your target audience.

So why isn’t it just as crucial after we win that business to build these types of positive emotional responses in client service? 

In the wake of SC Johnson’s mammoth defection of $400 million in business away from Draft FCB, I believe there’s more to the story here than merely dollars, cents and creative. Here too, it’s about relationships. Internal relationships within the agency that seemed to go haywire, resulting in longtime departures. Around the same time, new blood that came in from the client side. What it sounds like to me from the report in Crain’s is that what occurred was a perfect storm of personalities internally and externally that couldn’t quite mesh. And that makes it very, very challenging for the rest of an agency to overcome.

Relationships matter hugely on the way in and they matter just as much on the way out.

Let’s see. DraftFCB lost its long-time North American President, CFO and Chief of Staff within the last year – rumored to be due to internal politics. So no lack of gigantic transition there. You can put out all the agency memos you want about people seeking new adventures to minimize it, but there’s no mistaking these kinds of changes on one side are huge. And of course, the clients notice. Hello, new Chief Creative Officer.

Then, SC Johnson undergoes a bunch of changes in management too on their side. Big ones at the top. Hello, new Chief Operating Officer.

And it’s not like this new blood comes from within. Much of it came from the outside, which typically means people with their own agendas rather than trying to maintain continuity and cultural status quo. I’m not saying that’s a wrong move, but these types of transitions aren’t always smooth as silk. And when they happen on BOTH sides of the table around the same period of time? Forget about it.

Before we even talk about the quality of brand strategy, creative and results, can you see where this relationship would be behind the 8 Ball?

Let’s say it once and for all. No agency should feel that just because they have a client for 100 years that they should expect to have that client for Year 101 if the business isn’t cared for and nurtured as if it was won yesterday.

With this in mind, here are 12 service questions to ask yourself that are relevant to many in professional services, not just advertising and marketing:
1. Do you keep your contact aware of new trends affecting their industry regularly?
2.  Did you talk to them on the phone today (not e-mail – you have a voice. Use it.)?
3. How many people outside of your daily contact do you know there? How many of those people are outside of the department of your daily contact?
4. Conversely, how many people have they met from your company besides you? Why not?
5. When was the last time you took a tour of your client’s facility and other locations? 
6. When was the last time you just simply thanked them for their business? 
7. Have they ever referred a piece of business to you from another company? Why not?
8. How many other ways can they reach you besides phone and e-mail? Skype? LinkedIn? Twitter? 
9. Do you have regularly scheduled meetings so the both of you put it on your calendars or are you just waiting for them to call you if they need anything?
10. Have they ever invited you to a luncheon/networking event for an association or cause outside of work? Have you done the same for them?
11. Do you understand their goals not only in terms of “ROI in the next 6 months” but what makes them tick personally and professionally?
If you offer to take them to a Cubs game, are they going to be put off because they grew up on the South Side and are rabid Sox fans? What music do they like? Do they play golf? Have kids? These aren’t trivial things to know.
12. Outside of what they need for you to provide for them, how well do you understand all the other factors and forces internally that this person needs to navigate to do their job? When you’re not only someone they can confide in but someone they turn to as a person who helps them brainstorm solutions for greater workplace productivity – and that has NOTHING to do with your actual day-to-day job for them – you’ve hit pay dirt.

Some of those may seem like “no brainers” but you would be shocked how many high-ranking management types don’t do them and think they are small in the big picture.

To which my reply is: How many millions would you like to bet on that?

If you have a great example of a way you’ve extended yourself to clients (preferably not just one-time actions, but regular instances that show how you’ve built trust), let’s hear them in your comments so you can inspire others. 

The 3 People Who Never Belong In A Brainstorm Room

“OK, everybody. Come on into the brainstorm room/conference room and let’s talk about (Insert Initiative Here). We’re going to need to generate some ideas.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s take that a step back. As it turns out, the process of cultivating ideas isn’t for everybody. It’s not an automatic right based on title. I think what we forget about brainstorms is that we’re so focused on getting to the quality of the idea that we forget that in getting there, there needs to be quantity (this is a separate post in itself). The minute you brainstorm, you’re turning on a faucet at one speed: Fast. When you have these 3 types of people in the room, you’ll slow the pace to a trickle, if not shut it off completely. Let’s meet them, shall we?

Negative Nancy
“No, that’s not going to work.”
“No, they won’t like it because they don’t like the color blue.”
“No, we tried something like that before and they didn’t like it.”

The problem with Negative Nancy is that her presence is like tossing a grenade into the room. Her motivation for saying “no” is in all likelihood the fact that she has no or very few original ideas of her own but she wants to appear relevant to others. It’s not about her title, it’s about a deeper issue. “No” is her insecurity talking. It’s not that she isn’t necessarily a valuable employee, it’s just that brainstorming isn’t her forte. So all you’re doing by having her in the room is inviting the rejection of ideas like Dwight Howard swatting away a basketball. Ideas? Not in your house. Negative Nancy will not only shut down the idea presented but the ensuing effect of her presence will be to shut down a steady stream of ideas.

The “we tried that before” is a particular feature of this person I take issue with because there are many variables that may have worked poorly before that can be corrected now. Maybe it wasn’t the right time or place before. Maybe the idea before didn’t have the right audience to accept it. Maybe the idea before just wasn’t that creative compared to its better looking sibling idea now.

Overthinking Oscar
“Well, if we were to do that, how exactly would that work?”
That’s not important right now. Really. You’re putting the brakes on a phase that is geared to be purely conceptual. And when you do that, the brainstorming process goes from 120 mph to 20 mph and declining fast. It’s amazing how quickly the wind changes in the room. Dwelling on the “how’s it going to actually work” is important at a later point. When? When the brainstorm is pretty much over and you have a collection of concepts, scribbles, ideas, seeds, etc. to study more closely for deeper evaluation.

“Me First” Mel
“Well, I can’t relate to that idea in my own life so it must not be relevant.”
Mel probably isn’t trying to appear this self-centered, he just doesn’t know how to step outside of his own skin to identify what the true audience is facing in their lives. It’s not about YOU. The chances of someone in the brainstorming room actually matching the profile of the audience you’re trying to target is rare. So if you’re a 40-something female in middle management who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago who drives a Mercedes, you need to have more of an open mind if your audience is a 20-something who graduated a couple years ago, unmarried and lives in L.A. The behaviors, tastes and preferences are not going to be the same. And even if you are, no offense, but you’re just one person.

“Oh, horse crud. I think I’m one of these 3 people. Should I not be brainstorming?”
Not yet and don’t despair. There’s an easy way to right the ship. It just requires some self-discipline on your part. When someone comes up with an idea, let it get out there without immediate judgment. Yes, the idea may be stupid, but everyone has them. Stupid ideas can be great springboards to better ideas. You don’t know what small seed of something good may lie within that thought. And if it’s truly that awful, trust the judgment of others in the room to let it pass like a ship in the night. Remember, you still have the phase after the brainstorming is over to reserve judgment on ideas – just not right there in the moment. If you can train yourself to think positively and concentrate on keeping the flow of concepts going without shutting them down, overthinking or asking yourself What Would I Do, I think you’ll be on the path to being a valuable asset that others will enjoy inviting into the brainstorm room every time.

Final thought – if the person who meets one of these criteria above is a manager that you can’t tell to sit it out, all is not lost. What I like to do in these situations is have a designated person announce some brief ground rules (“no bad ideas”) of no more than 2 minutes long EVERY time you brainstorm just to reinforce what should and shouldn’t be said. You’ll better your chances of ensuring the faucet of ideas flows mightily rather than trickles to a few drips.